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Speaking Bluntlyby Michael B. Dougherty | Manhattan magazine | May 24, 2012
Manhattan’s iconic mainstay, The Plaza Hotel, sets the scene for a dramatic entrance by actress Emily Blunt. She descends the stairs of the Royal Terrace Suite into a room with ample gilding and baroque furniture more suited to Marie Antoinette than Eloise. Donning a flowy Valentino dress in tangerine chiffon and flashing equally striking eyelashes, which accentuate an already transfixing gaze, Blunt’s certainly dressed for the surroundings. Having wrapped the day’s shoot, she plops herself on a nearby couch, and by way of introduction, says, “I can’t wait to take these lashes off.”
It’s an accurate first impression of the 29-year-old English actress: poised, glamorous and utterly disarming. When she returns a few minutes later, having changed into what she says is her standard uniform of a slouchy cotton top and pencil-leg black jeans, I mention how naturally she seems to inhabit high-fashion magazine spreads. That comment is met with a burst of laughter. “Really?!… I dress like that all the time,” Blunt jokes.
The self-deprecation may be charming, but Yves Saint Laurent didn’t hire Blunt to be the face of its Opium fragrance campaign—smoldering a leopard into submission for the television spot—due to her humility. It’s more likely that they recognize the A-list presence Blunt has become in Hollywood after career-changing roles in The Devil Wears Prada and The Young Victoria. In the last few months she’s appeared in another screen adaptation (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen with Ewan McGregor), a Judd Apatow-produced comedy opposite Jason Segel (The Five-Year Engagement), and this month, a hilariously poignant indie, Your Sister’s Sister. You’re about to see a lot more of Emily Blunt—and she hopes you’re OK with that.
With a defense lawyer for a father and a mother who was a former actor, Blunt’s childhood in the London suburb of Roehampton was spent indulging in an early flair for the dramatic. “I loved the make-believe aspect of life,” remarks Blunt. “I was that really annoying friend you didn’t want to stay over because I’d be waking you up at 5 in the morning to pretend that the room was on fire.” The Blunt household was a raucous but supportive environment as she remembers it, and she remains close with her older sister Felicity (a literary agent in New York), younger brother Sebastian (a budding actor) and another sister, Susannah (a vet in training). Despite the theatrics, Blunt’s introduction to the stage wasn’t a foregone conclusion; in fact, it was a terrifying prospect for a chronic stutterer.
Blunt says her parents tried everything to alleviate the stuttering that tormented her from ages 7 to 13, but it was a sympathetic teacher at the Ibstock Place School who suggested she try using a character’s accented speech to overcome her own difficulties. “It was quite miraculous how effective that was, and I spoke fairly fluently for the first time in a while,” says Blunt. Since then, she’s never once stuttered onstage (although it can come back during times of stress) and she now advocates for others via The American Institute for Stuttering.
“I really fell into the business, which is a story actors hate, because they’re like, ‘F—k you! I’ve been struggling for years!’” says Blunt with another laugh. An appearance at the annual Edinburgh International Festival during high school led to a role in the West End production of The Royal Family at London’s iconic Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2001, where a green, 18-year-old Blunt says she was hit with a revelatory “lightning bolt” about her destiny. She recalls that her co-star, none other than Dame Judi Dench, advised her, “Listen, darling, you’re going to be great. And if anyone gives you any trouble, you come straight to me.”
Blunt segued into TV and film roles, which were often the period dramas seemingly required of up-and-coming English actresses. (“Everyone has to learn to ride sidesaddle and wear a gusset,” she jokes.) Across the pond, Blunt was still a relative unknown until 2006, when The Devil Wears Prada opened stateside. Next she tackled romantic comedies, biographies, and even The Simpsons, but it was 2009’s The Young Victoria that firmly established Blunt’s rising star—by putting her back in a corset. The actress played Queen Victoria as she ascended to the throne with depth and purpose in what otherwise might have been just another airless period piece. “I was so taken by the spirit and the passion of this girl. So strong at such a young age,” she remembers. “I went in there and said, ‘You have to let me do it!’”
Married to actor John Krasinski of The Office since 2010, Blunt visibly squirms in her chair when asked about life at home. She remarks, “This is what I find difficult about talking about my marriage: It’s hard to sum up something that’s so vital and means everything to you in a sound bite. Do you know what I mean? All I can say is that it’s an effing blast. It’s just great, and I’m so happy.” Blunt emphasizes that she and Krasinski lead a normal life—as normal as it can be living in the Hollywood Hills next to late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who, she says, they’re “really lucky” to have around, especially for his enviously well-equipped kitchen and pizza-making skills.
She also says that a family is on the horizon, one of these days. “We want to have children; I just don’t know when yet. I’m just not sure about the timing of all of that,” says Blunt. “We’re both from big families so I think it’s something we want.” There’s certainly enough work to keep her busy in the interim. When Blunt returns to indie cinema with Your Sister’s Sister, opposite Mark Duplass (The League) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Mad Men, United States of Tara), she plays Iris, the concerned friend and secret admirer of Duplass’ grieving Jack. Blunt’s character sends him to recover at her family’s cabin near Seattle, but the gesture is complicated by the unexpected presence of Iris’ sister Hannah (DeWitt), who arrives with her own agenda.
Duplass, who brought the idea for the film to director Lynn Shelton, says that casting Blunt was a “pipe dream.” “I thought it was so cool that she said ‘yes,’” he says. Shot over the course of 10 days on an island off Washington state, with mostly improvised dialogue, Duplass says he was struck by Blunt’s ability to “create chemistry with almost anyone… She has a way of within five minutes feeling like your best friend.” Shelton, who says she was a “huge admirer [of Blunt] to the point of being slightly obsessed with her,” observed that her performance “never, ever feels cookie-cutter… nobody else could ever do it the way she does it. I love watching her on-screen.”
In September, Blunt will appear in Looper, a crime thriller set against the backdrop of time travel in a not-so-distant future. Blunt describes the project (also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis) as the “coolest movie,” partially because it demanded that she learn to chop wood in her backyard (“I find it quite relaxing,” she notes). With a celluloid omnipresence approaching Ryan Gosling-type levels, Blunt hopes all these appearances aren’t perceived as too much of a good thing, or as she puts it, “people [will be] like, ‘Oh, her again.’” Inconceivable as a Blunt backlash may be, she does have a plan B if the accolades turn to pitchforks: She’ll become a chef. “Yeah, I’d really like to do it,” she proclaims, citing Mario Batali and Ina Garten as Food Network favorites. “I love to cook. It really is the most peaceful, happy experience for me.” But with her talent and roster of upcoming projects, time for toques will have to wait.